Several years ago, I was talking with my mentor about a problem I was facing. I was stuck between two pretty bad options and I felt like I had to pick one. She patiently listened as I told her all about why each option was awful. When I finally came up for air and let her get a word in, she looked at me calmly, without judgement, and said decisively, “Do it on your own terms.” This one quick and simple statement that seemed so automatic and obvious to her was a total game-changer to me. I realized in that moment that I was the one who limited myself to these two poor options. Certainly there were other options available that I hadn’t even considered. I thought about it and quickly came up with a solution that was not as awful as the two options I had initially conjured up. I did it on my own terms, and it went just fine.
As a therapist, I find myself borrowing my mentor’s advice quite frequently and sharing it with clients. It is so exciting to see the lightbulb go off in their heads as they open their mind to new possibilities. Just last week, a client was telling me how she was invited to both a birthday gathering and a baby shower over the weekend, and all she wanted to do was hang out at home with her family. In her mind, she felt like she had to go to both of these outings because she was invited. She believed that if she didn’t go, she would hurt the feelings of the people who had invited her. By the time we were discussing it, she had already decided in her mind she would go to both events and forego her own personal plans. She described both events in a very negative light – one was far from home, late in the evening, with people she didn’t know very well, the other was in the middle of the day on Saturday, for several hours, with people that made her feel intimidated and insecure. I told her that it seemed like her mind was already made up about going even though it sounded like she really didn’t want to go. She nodded in agreement, looking defeated. I then asked her, “What would it look like if you could do this on your own terms? Would you go? Would you pass? Or is there some in-between that you haven’t yet considered that could be a better fit?” She thought about it for a moment then looked up at me and told me that if she could do it her way she would pass on the birthday gathering and instead offer to take the friend out for a drink another night. I encouraged her to do just that. She had come up with a wonderful option that allowed her to get what she needs and also allowed her to celebrate her friend’s birthday. As for the baby shower, she seemed a bit more stuck. I asked her if she might be able to go for a little bit and leave early, and she immediately looked more at ease. She told me that she could arrive late as she did have things to do earlier in the day and that she believed her friend would be understanding. As soon as she was able to handle both situations on her own terms, without feeling compelled to poor choices, she looked incredibly relieved.
“Do it on your own terms,” is some on the best advice I have ever received. All too often we are presented with challenges and we box ourselves into options that aren’t great for us. My challenge to you, and to myself, is to strive to do it on our own terms. It can make a world of difference when we open ourselves up to the possibilities instead of feeling stuck with options that simply don’t fit our wants and needs. So the next time someone asks you to do something, instead of limiting yourself to a simple yes or no response, think long and hard about the options in between and you may just find yourself feeling more satisfied and less stressed.